A group of children stand holding their new toys with Clemson Hope volunteers behind them.

Clemson Hope volunteers pose with teacher Jessica Williams’ first-grade class at James M. Brown Elementary School in Walhalla.

CLEMSON — For the third year, Clemson Hope, a Clemson University student-led nonprofit, wrapped and delivered more than 1,100 Christmas presents for children at two local elementary schools as part of their Adopt-A-Classroom campaign.

“Adopt-A-Classroom is our unique way of showing every student and teacher in our partnered schools that they matter and that their community is invested in them,” said Clemson junior and elementary education major Price Crenshaw, the founder and director of Clemson Hope. “What I really like to emphasize is that Adopt-A-Classroom is not just about giving Christmas presents. The presents serve as our opportunity to get into the classroom, gain the students’ trust and form relationships with them that we continue through our mentoring programs.”

The gifts come from community members who donate toys or give money to Clemson Hope to purchase toys on their behalf.

A girl wearing a red shirt and reindeer antlers on her head wraps a present on a gym floor surrounded by other people wrapping presents.

Clemson University student Breana Carter, a sophomore studying special education from Elloree, wraps a Christmas present during the Clemson Hope wrapping party.

Each gift collected in the weeks before the event was wrapped by more than 100 exuberant student volunteers at a loud and lively “community wrapping night” at the Clemson United Methodist Church Dec. 3. Fueled by hot chocolate and pizza, the volunteers spread out across the gym floor and made short work of it.

“We wrapped more than 1,100 gifts in under an hour!” Crenshaw said.

Last Thursday and Friday, an even larger number of volunteers descended on Westminster Elementary and James M. Brown Elementary schools in Oconee County to deliver the gifts.

Groups of two-to-five Clemson Hope volunteers split off into each classroom, where they spent time interacting with every child. They accompanied their new friends to recess and lunch before bringing them back to their classrooms to surprise them with the presents. Explosions of joy could be heard up and down the hallways as the presents were taken out of the large boxes used to smuggled them into the classrooms.

A message from Clemson Hope is read before the unwrapping:

“The surprise we are about to give you comes from community members who love you and care about you. They wanted you to have this Christmas present [so you] feel loved and special. Love is the most powerful tool we have – and is much more important than these really cool toys. Someone has made you feel special, but you also have the chance to make other people feel special too! Think about what you can do to serve others and make them feel loved. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are – we can all make a difference!”

A female Clemson student chats with three children who are eating lunch at a table.

Clemson University student Jessica Bush, a sophomore studying packaging science from Greenville, interacts with kindergartners during lunch at James M. Brown Elementary School.

At that, the teacher counts down and “Go!” all that wrapping paper is torn away in a burst of ripping and excited squeals, followed by the required displaying and comparing of the new toys.

These will be the only gifts some of these children get this Christmas, said James M. Brown Elementary first-grade teacher Sara Mann, a 2002 Clemson grad.

“This is my third year participating in this,” she said. “I have several children who, when we talk about presents at Christmas, they tell me they get nothing. So for them this is huge. Every year the smile and the joy that we see on their faces is more than I can try to describe.”

Mann explained that, as a Clemson graduate herself, she could not be more proud of the goodness the students display through organizations like Clemson Hope.

Clemson students sit and interact with children at lunch tables

Clemson University students interact with kindergartners during lunch at James M. Brown Elementary School.

“Price is amazing,” said Mann. “I love that she has done such a great job of pulling in other majors at Clemson. It’s not just education majors. I’ve seen students from all the different colleges here today. It makes me so proud to see these Clemson students donating so much time and effort to give our kids such a fun day.”

After all the excitement of the day has died down, Mann teaches her students how important it is to pay it forward.

“I make a big effort to tell them how someone blessed us today, so now it’s our job to go out and bless someone else – maybe not with a present per se, but just with kindness. Somebody came and did something nice for us so it’s our turn to spread that out among other people. We will really work hard to do that after you guys leave today.”

Two boys hold up their new tows and smile while Clemson student looks on

Clemson University student Caroline Sumwalt, a senior studying nursing from Rock Hill, celebrates with a group of group of first-graders after they unwrapped their Clemson Hope Christmas presents at James M. Brown Elementary School.